Document of the month: January 2019
Refugees of Gurs. CAT ANC-539-N71/Fons Josep Franch-Clapers
The document chosen for this month is a work of the catalan painter and refugee Josep Franch-Clapers. It is a draw made with watercolor and chinese ink, and there are represented a group of refugees among the fences of a concentration camp. We can also see some letters integrated into the draw that say “Camp de Gurs”. This draw belongs to the collection Historie vécue, also known like Gurs internment camp series. This series is composed by eighteen works, besides the title page and the back cover. The draw that we present today is the first one of the series, and it reflects the hardness and the pain of all those persons that they had stolen them the freedom.
Josep Franch-Clapers was born in Castellterçol in 1915. He started his studies of art at the School of the Decorator Patterns and at the thirties it was educated in the Llotja, where he discovered the watercolor and obtained the first prize of Watercolorists of Catalonia. But his career as an artist was aborted due to the break out of the Spanish Civil War.
He fought with the republican side until 1939, until Catalonia was defeated for the national ones. Many of the republicans ran away towards the french borders to scape from the reprisals of Franco's regime. This exodus of Spanish republicans to France is known as “the withdrawal”. Due to this situation, the French government made construct several internment camps, with the objective “of accommodating” all those exiles who ran away from the francoist Spain.
The Gurs camp was placed in the Atlantic Pyrenees, in New Aquitaine. It was the most important camp for the French in that period. There, Josep Franch-Clapers was interned during a year.
The conditions were wretched, there were not medical services either a state of suitable salubrity. The ground was clayey so it could not be profited agricultural. The corn and the fields of fodder were the most generalized crops.
The precinct was 1,400 meters of length and 200 of width, and had a surface of 28 hectares. They were 382 cabins of 25 m2 each, with a capacity of 60 persons in moments of maximum population. The cabins were hermetical, without ventilation holes, the walls were very thin and it was easy to pass the cold and the rain.
When starting the Second World War, the French government started to use the Gurs camp to intern political prisoners, such as allied of the nazis or dangerous local criminals. Further on, after the defeat of France in the front of Germany, the administration and the custody of the field went to hands of the regime of Vichy, and Gurs was used like a concentration camp for Jews.
The experience of Franch-Clapers in the Gurs camp, together with his imprisonment in the Saint Cyprien and Saint Rémy camps, marked its artístic production in a explicit way.
The drawing that we have selected is a witness of one of the most tragic facts that took place in Catalonia when finishing the Civil War. The work of Franch-Clapers was given to the Generalitat de Catalunya and deposited in the National Archive of Catalonia, and it has become a souvenir of war that helps us to understand and construct a narrative about the horrors and the dramatic events that took place in the concentration camps.
The National Archive has an exhibition titled «Josep Franch-Clapers. L'èxode. L'exili» to show a representative sample of his work with the aim to approach the pieces to the public.